Melissa McKinnies, a prominent black activist in Ferguson, Missouri, claims that her son, who was found dead last month, was lynched.
McKinnies discovered her son, 24-year-old Danye Jones, hanging from a tree by a bed sheet in her backyard on October 17. McKinnies uploaded now-deleted graphic images of his body to Facebook that week, demanding answers. The images quickly circulated online along with the hashtag #DanyeJones.
The sad irony in her son, a young black man, becoming his own hashtag runs deep. In the wake of 18-year-old Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer in 2014, McKinnies became an outspoken activist, working to bring justice for Brown and her community. While Brown quickly became a hashtag on Twitter following his death — in addition to the phrase #BlackLivesMatter — McKinnies and others like her wanted to prevent future hashtags from cropping up.
Police in Ferguson stated Wednesday evening that they are investigating Jones’ death as a suicide, the River Front Times reported. They reported no evidence of foul play and said Jones’ body was no longer hanging when officers arrived at the scene.
Danye was found hanging from a tree in his mom’s backyard on 10/17. The police didn’t investigate, but called it a suicide.
But Danye has just bought property to sell & his mother knows this isn’t true. pic.twitter.com/BYkaDehz9X
— Brittany Packnett (@MsPackyetti) October 31, 2018
McKinnies is adamantly disputing the suicide claim, however, arguing that a suicide would be completely out of character for Jones. He had left behind a packed bag, after all, and the sheet found with his body doesn’t match any owned by the family.
Jones’ death for some may call to mind a string of other suspicious unsolved deaths in Ferguson and nationwide. It’s eerily reminiscent of one case in particular, that of a boy whose 2014 death was ruled a suicide, despite the family’s skepticism and glaring pieces of evidence suggesting foul play.
In 2014, 17-year-old Lennon Lacy was found hanging from a swing set in a trailer park in his North Carolina town. His mother and family could not fathom why the teen would take his own life, but knew he had enemies in the town. Lacy, who was Black, was in a relationship with a white woman twice his age, which angered some residents in the community, according to his family. After his funeral, someone was also arrested for defacing his grave.
The suspicion around Lacy’s death was so great that the NAACP hired Christina Roberts, a private forensic pathologist, who called into the question the logistics of the original police investigation. Lacy was 5 feet 9 inches tall and the noose found around his neck — fashioned out of belts Lacy’s mother claims did not belong to him — was hanging approximately 6 feet off the ground. According to CNN, the crossbar to which it was affixed was approximately 7 feet 6 inches off the ground.
Lacy was also found without his original pair of shoes, a brand new pair of Air Jordans. His brother seemed incredulous about that detail.
“He’s going to walk a quarter mile from his house in a pair of shoes…two sizes too small after he takes off his new pair of shoes — and this is a 17-year-old black kid with a brand new pair of Jordans on,” he told CNN at the time. “He’s going to take those Jordans off and just get rid of them and put on some shoes that [aren’t] his — we don’t know where he got them from, no laces in them — and continue to walk down this dirt road late at night to a swing set in the middle of the trailer park and hang himself. How can I believe that?”
Regardless the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh “found no evidence to suggest that Lacy’s death was a homicide” and closed the investigation.
Should new evidence appear, the Justice Department would consider re-opening the case, The Undefeated reported.
Jones’ death is also the latest in a troubling pattern of cases among Ferguson activists and protesters since 2014.
As activist and Pod Save the People co-host Brittany Packnett tweeted Wednesday, “#DanyeJones is at least the 4th person related to the #Ferguson uprising to die in more than suspicious circumstances. This is a pattern.”
In 2014, on the night that the verdict in Michael Brown’s death came down, DeAndre Joshua’s body was found burning in a car with a gunshot wound to the head.
Two years later, Darren Seals, a Ferguson-based activist, was also found in a burning car dead with two gunshot wounds to the head.
Police continue to investigate both men’s deaths.
In May 2017, Edward Crawford, seen throwing a police tear-gas canister in a now-iconic photo from the Ferguson protests, was found dead in his car from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His father told reporters he believed his son may have accidentally shot himself, but said investigators had given him few details. Police told NBC News that “Crawford shot himself in the backseat of a car while it was moving, according to two witnesses who were seated in the front of the car.”
For her part, McKinnies says she won’t let her son’s death stop her from fighting for the community. “4:51 a.m. and sick with grief but ready to get up and fight for my baby,” she wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday morning.